(Originally posted on medium, thought it might be useful to people here :) - a bit older, but still relevant/useful I think)
So you’ve decided that you want to set up a meetup group, more specifically one aimed at bring a group of people around a particular industry segment. Good for you! In early 2012 we decided to do this in the bay area, setting out to create a meetup for people in the ‘fintech’ industry and with some pretty good success (defined below) so thought we should share our 20 tips for creating a successful industry focused meetup group
First the statistics for fintech meetup
- Started: Feb 2012
- Location: San Francisco
- First event: March 2012
- Most recent event: May 1st 2014
- Next event: May 27th 2014
- Total Events: 28, 4 social, 24 Standard (we also helped to market ~20 3rd party events)
- Members: 2026
- Reviews: 38 (estimated average rating of 4.5 stars)
- Attendance: ~100+ per meetup
- Link to group http://www.meetup.com/fin-tech-org-sf
20 Points to build a great industry meetup
Identify your objectives upfront
What is the mission of the group? why are you bringing all these people together? For us we have two very clear goals.
- Foster innovation in financial services through technology (fintech) by bringing together people in and interested in fintech on a regular basis to learn, share & network
- Create awareness of the opportunities in fintech to help drive more investment into this space
State this every time you meet
Without fail I ensure that the people in the room hear the objectives stated at each meetup. We typically have about 40% new people in the room at any given meetup so it’s as much to ensure they know what we’re trying to achieve as to re-affirm this to our repeat visitors.
Choose the right venues (location, type, culture of venue owner, frequency)
The importance of this can’t be overstated. Ask yourself ‘what do I think the people I”m bringing together are going to want to do with their limited time here?’ and optimize the venue around this. For us we had a focus on networking and having people listen to one speaker or panel so the conference rooms of large law & accounting firms were perfect venues. Consider your needs but also you’ll probably have to take whatever you can get in the early days ☺ It helps to have two venue partners so you aren’t 100% reliant on the availability of one and helps to keep things fresh for your members.
If the purpose of your meetup is to bring people in the industry together, whatever industry, then you need minimal barriers to entry but there is more to it than this. Charging money means you have to answer to the people who don’t feel like they got value for money. In the early days it’s hard to do this as you’re still working it out, so charging becomes a distraction. Expect 50 — 60% attendance rate rate if it’s free, more on that later.
Forget food & booze
.. and if you don’t charge then you can’ get away with not having to provide food & booze. Push your ‘venue partner’ for light refreshments (read water & soft drinks) but worrying about having this stuff is a distraction to running a great event. You’re better off expending your energies elsewhere and as a bonus you’ll avoid the people who pay $5 for mid-week feed who aren’t super connected to your value proposition anyway.
Focus on people, every. single. time
Instead of charging, food & booze spend your time with people. I make a point of introducing myself and welcoming new faces to the group as much as I can. I then try to introduce the person to another person I know in the group. I’ve of course made mistakes where I welcome people who’ve come previously. Laugh at yourself. Go again.
Paint a picture of the future
People like progress and love to be part of progress. Usually when I’m talking about the objectives for the group I’m talking about what’s coming down the line also. Whether it’s next months speakers, a new subgroup (for us this was the fintech developer community) future direction keeps people interested, talking and coming back.
Ask for feedback, as a group and to individuals
The first bit is obvious, I ask people to rate the group and provide feedback every meetup but realistically you need to ask people one on one to really know how you’re going and what to change. Do it.
Make early active supporters, advocates
Because misery loves company haha, no — to make this work you’re going to need people to shoulder some of the load. I found this worked in some areas and not in others. Getting early active supporters to help grow the meetup is easy and the risk is low. Having those people take on responsibility for an event or even helping out at an event doesn’t always work. I had a couple of occasions where I did more work trying to ensure someone would turn up to help than it would have been to just do the work myself. That said you will inevitably find great people who believe in the objectives of the group so embrace them, empower them and thank them publicly when they take responsibility.
Get great speakers, aim to constantly improve
Twitter is your friend and remember that anyone who is having success in your industry is probably motivated to change your industry. Being invited to speak to a room of their peers is both a compliment and an opportunity for them. You have more pulling power than you realize and be sure to use your last great speaker to get your next one
Mix up the format
We started with just the ‘speaker, presentation with Q&A after’ format. It works very well for us but have found that mixing this up with panels and ‘fireside chats’ keeps things interesting for people. Panels tend to take a bit more work (you have 4 schedules to deal with) but you get a lot of bang for your buck as you have 4 people who will self-promote. Panels require strong moderation, make sure you have that covered.
Don’t set the agenda
In our meetup descriptions we err on the side of ‘the event is from 6 — 9pm’ vs breaking it down into parts. This is so there is some serendipity in the event. Once you start getting bigger speakers people will come just for the speaker at 7pm and walk out at 8pm. This doesn’t contribute to the community you’re trying to build.
Follow up RSVPS
Unfortunately it’s just too easy to RSVP yes to something these days so your ‘200 , RSVPS closed’ might only translate to ~100 actual shows. You should account for this, I tend to expect ~60% show rate but might be different for your group based on location, speaker etc. I make a point of asking people in the days leading up to update their RSVP so people who waitlist can come. If anyone reaches out to you on the day because you’re full always say yes to this person and put their name on the list manually. See next point.
Make friends with the guy downstairs (security)
Speaks for itself, will only ever help you.
This is critical, especially as you grow. You get 100+ people in a room then you’re going to have characters, opinions and agendas. Finding the line between adding to the dialogue and distracting it is tough but completely unmoderated it is bound to disintegrate which serves no one ☺ — learning the phrase ‘I think you guys can take this offline’ is invaluable.
As you grow, use that to get more growth
People like big or growing numbers. As you make progress, whatever it is, use that to get your next big speaker, venue or partner.
Market via the 3rd party lists, make friends with those people personally
These curated lists exist everywhere, find them, submit to them, offer to help the people who run them (9 times out of 10 they won’t take you up on the offer, 1 time of out 10 you get a great supporter because you helped). Also, meetup.com does a ton of heavy lifting in terms of reaching new audiences. Outside of the essentials of running an event I would say this is the single biggest value that meetup adds in organically growing a meetup.
Decide what you do and don’t do. It’s no problem to try new things but saying no to things that don’t line up with your objective is critical. Once the value proposition of your meetup is diluted or misunderstood it will be very hard to have continued success. In our case this meant making the call that the ‘showcase’ (where startups show their technology) was an area we weren’t going to play in. People like them but running them presented challenges that we weren’t resourced to handle and there is plenty of fintech showcases which do an amazing job (and a commercial organizations for a good reason, they’re a lot of work!)
Once you have a few members people are going to want to leverage all your hard work. Sometimes the would be partners are highly relevant to your group, work out how to work together even if its as simple as marketing their event to your group. If it is not, be ruthless but polite. It takes very little for people to feel marketed to and you probably have 1 — 2 chances.
In our case we have specific filters before we will co-market an event (it basically has to be fintech only) and we make it VERY clear this is a 3rd party event.
We also said no to a lot of venue offers that came with ‘sales strings’ attached. Venues who want to actively sell to the people you bring to their venue are a distraction. Our two main venue partners have organically got plenty of business and value out of the meetup and broader relationship with us. Find these kind of venue partners and be explicit in stating this to be the modus operandi.
Take your time
Cause all good things take time and what’s the rush. Unless you’re in the [INSERT DYING INDUSTRY HERE] industry then your industry is going to be around for a while so there is no rush to create a great meetup. It takes time to learn what works for your specific sector, so be humble, try things, make mistakes and have fun.